Astra Doubles Down on Cancer Research Despite Key Trial Setback

  • Lung cancer drugs hit marks in recently released study data
  • Company’s other development programs may see research cuts

Pascal Soriot

AstraZeneca Plc is shifting more of its almost $6 billion budget for research and development to cancer despite the failure of a key study earlier this year.

The U.K.’s second-biggest drugmaker increased the share of R&D spending on oncology to about half from 43 percent last year and 29 percent in 2013, Chief Executive Officer Pascal Soriot said in an interview Sunday, while attending the ESMO 2017 Congress in Madrid. That may mean redeploying resources in other areas of research at the Cambridge, England-based company, he said.

Astra reported encouraging results for treatments of lung cancer on Saturday, with its Imfinzi drug showing that it can halt mid-stage disease almost a year longer than standard therapy, while the Tagrisso pill outperformed rival treatments in a separate study of advanced lesions. That may help offset the setback that came in July when a test of Imfinzi, in combination with another Astra drug, produced disappointing results in advanced tumors, leading to a plunge in the stock.

“We have to prioritize what we do,” Soriot said. “The exciting part in cancer care is that we can see, now, the time when can really make a big difference in treatment.”

The company spent $5.89 billion on R&D last year, and has said it expects to spend a similar amount in 2017. The redeployment of resources may mean less money for other areas the company focuses on, such as respiratory drugs and heart treatments.

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